Review: WELCOME TO NIGHT VALE by Joseph Fink & Jeffrey Cranor (2017)

Rating: 4/5 stars
Genre: Adult paranormal
Year Release: 2017
Source: Library audiobook

Listened to the audiobook

“Comfort read” for me is such a strange concept. Most people turn to old favorites or more cheery things with happy endings. I turn to the terrifying and unusual when I need something resembling normality. Welcome to Night Vale, the novel, hit just the spot.

This novel takes place in Night Vale, a quiet desert town where the dog park is to be avoided at all costs, pawn shop owners never age, and boys don’t stay in the same form for any reliable length of time. The book version of the podcast delves into the lives Jackie and Diane, two recurring characters in the show. I really liked being able to see what community and family looks like in this place where its creepiness becomes a background to the other trappings of every day life. I really enjoyed the story line of a mother trying to connect with her son, and the young person trying to be taken seriously and prove herself. The way the characters follows a satisfying trail of bread crumbs.

It’s wonderful and odd, but I will say, you might need to listen to an episode or two of the podcast to get into the quirks, such as the radio show and its recurring bits. As someone who has listened extensively to the podcast, it so true to the spirit of it. Having Cecil Baldwin narrate really rounded out the experience. I am definitely look forward to the rest of the ongoing series.

Review: THE RUIN OF KINGS by Jenn Lyons (2019)

Rating: 4/5 stars
Genre: Adult fantasy
Year Release: 2019
Source: Library audiobook

Listened to the audiobook

Remember Dragon Age 2? Remember how it opened with one of the party members getting interrogated by another party member of a different game and that’s now we got the story? Remember all the disaster queers? Remember how, for a thing with dragon in the title, there was one dragon? If you enjoyed all these things, this fantasy will be right up your alley.

The triple narration is executed with such precision, it is the thing of envy. We get the story of how Kihrin D’Mon wound up in prison from Kihrin, Talon (his jailer), and a mysterious third narrator who should up in footnotes and the last third. It is so fun, mostly because each perspective simply enhances the story, and the emotional connections are tenuous at best. It offers such a unique opportunity to delve into all aspects of the world-building, with scenes connecting based on relevance rather than sequence. Such a cool technique.

In addition, there were aspects of the world-building that feel familiar to many a fantasy fan, but my personal favorite: the mimic. These shapeshifters were so cool, and I am so glad they play such a huge role in the plot. Moreover, I was super intrigued by the soul-binding and death magic throughout this work. Terrible things are afoot in the world, and Kihrin and his friends are in terrible binds, which will probably take more pacts with gods to unravel.

I need my various audiobook subscriptions to refresh asap so I can continue this excellent fantasy saga.

ARC Review: THE DEEP by Alma Katsu (2020)

Rating: 5/5 stars
Genre: Adult historical horror
Year Release: 2020
Source: Edelweiss

Read an eARC off Edelweiss

Having loved Katsu’s previous historical horror, The Hunger, I had high expectations for her second. The Deep is a fictional take on the events of the Titanic and the Britannic, ships which had sunk in very different circumstances, but shared a few passengers, including main character Annie Hebbley.

Katsu has such a knack for managing several timelines and points of view in one narrative. In addition to the great historical tragedies, Katsu delves deeply into one personal tragedy which spans both ships’ journeys. The one that carries the story—the Fletcher family consisting of Caroline, Mark, Ondine, and the late Lilian Notting—was particularly compelling. It features the promise of better, jealousy, terrible choices, and redemptive arcs which try to right the wrongs of the past. Katsu also narrows in on the stories of other passengers, like the Astors, Guggenheim, and more. The depth of research simmers on page, maintaining immersive dread.

Much like in The Hunger, each character gets ample page time. The supernatural, folkloric scares in this one work so well because this narrative is so character-driven. The ships simply serve as a backdrop and madness thrives independent of its majesty. Personal sins and tragedies haunt everyone every step of the way, making for yet another heart-wrenching narrative.

Once again, I found myself the kind of upset in a way that makes me say thank you.

Review: THE CABIN AT THE END OF THE WORLD by Paul Tremblay (2018)

Rating: 4/5 stars
Genre: Adult horror
Year Release: 2018
Source: Library audiobook

Listened to the audiobook

When a young family escape to the woods for a summer retreat, the last thing they expect is a quartet of cultists to invade their cabin. They give Eric and Andrew an ultimatum: pick one of them to sacrifice else the world ends.

If you really enjoyed 10 Cloverfield Lane, this book is perfect for you. This single-setting story works so well because of how character-driven it is. The world-building in this contemporary setting is largely unnecessary. So much of the tension comes from what is true, what is perceived true, and the facts. The world could actually be ending but also maybe not! No one is level-headed enough to be honest from start to finish. This book does get violent and gory, so if that’s not your thing, watch out.

I also really liked how real the family felt. Wen read to me like a seven-year-old who just wanted to have a happy summer collecting grasshoppers with her two dads. Her two dads clearly had chemistry and history, but also an authentic sense of responsibility that (hopefully) comes with parenthood. There wasn’t a single character in this entire narrative that I didn’t end up caring about (even Leonard, of all people).

Tensely character driven exercise in the choices people make under the circumstances. That being said, if you are someone who cannot handle bad things happening to young child, put this down and read anything else.

Review: THE TWISTED ONES by T. Kingfisher (2019)

Rating: 4/5 stars
Genre: Adult horror
Year Release: 2019
Source: Audible

Listened to the audiobook

Going to grandmother’s house turns into eldritch horror as Mouse is tasked by her father to clean the place out after grandma’s death. Armed with freelance work, helpful townsfolk, and a very good dog named Bongo, Mouse must face haunted woods, a creepy, prophetic journal, and her step-grandfather’s own descent into madness.

The concept of rifling through the deceased’s items can be uncomfortable enough. Mouse’s grandmother, however, had also been a hoarder on top of a generally terrible person. I really liked all the coping mechanisms Kingfisher presented during this cursed clean-up job: diving into edits, reading an old-timey journal as if it’s another editorial gig, listening to NPR, going on walks, and more. None of this, however, distracts from the creeping dread. It starts with a pedestrian kind of weird, i.e. the room of dolls, to something ripped out of Bloodborne’s design works.

Though immersive and character-driven in a way that makes the dead feel as alive as the living, the pacing of the story could have been a bit more consistent. I think I understood the intention of the normalcy, but when the ending came, it felt so abrupt. Perhaps that had been the point.

That being said, I will always appreciate a work which starts by “spoiling” the ending, but continues to deliver on the terror. We know Mouse and Bongo are telling us the adventure at grandma’s house after the fact. It doesn’t make the monsters any easier to look at or the mantras any less disturbing.

Unsettling in a way that makes rocks absolutely horrifying, a must-read for fans of folkloric horror and very good boys.

 

Review: THE AGE OF ICE by J.M. Sidorova (2013)

Rating: 4/5 stars
Genre: Adult fantasy
Year Release: 2013
Source: Library physical copy

Alexander Velitzyn was born in a palace constructed from ice alongside his twin brother Andrei. He suffers from some kind of affliction that makes his skin literally cold as ice. The rest of the book is his life, in addition to finding literally answer to why he had been cursed.

The voice here is so Eastern European: deeply sarcastic, sort of self-pitying if it all weren’t true. Because of the cold disposition his turn as Old Man Frost granted him, his personal relationships suffer, until he learns that they can actually thrive besides the frost of his skin. The side characters had been fairly well-developed. I found myself thinking about them during long intervals during their absence. The consistent introspection gave weight to the personal touchstones in his life, which is hard to convey in a narrative that spans so many years.

In addition the relationships, I greatly admired how Sidorova omitted greater events of historical history. In fact, Alexander runs away from Russia in the 1800s to go to Persia. He even spends a good decade in the Arctic, trying to discover ice’s secrets and the relationships there are simply fascinating.

Icy in its sarcasm and coverage of smaller political stories mostly set in the 1700s, The Age of Ice perfectly covers the exhaustion that comes with long, unnatural life.

 

Review: CONSPIRACY OF RAVENS by Lila Bowen (2016)

Rating: 4/5 stars
Genre: Adult speculative fiction/fantasy western
Year Release: 2016
Source: Library physical copy

The Wild West reimagined with more monsters and queer folk definitely is having a bit of a moment. Wake of Vultures, the first installment of The Shadow quartet, introduced us to Nettie Lonesome. In this sequel, Nettie fully becomes Rhett Walker, a truth which helps him get better at shifting. This book also introduces other shifters and new characters.

Much like the first installment, this book is so much fun. The monsters are terrifying, the villains are dastardly, and everyone has survival on the mind so no one can really be trusted. Rhett undergoes so many excellent sequences of self-discovery throughout. They range from him spending quality time with his gender identity and having a variety of romps with several characters.

The antagonist of this novel is also so good. A true robber baron stealing blood from magical creatures (seriously, there’s a unicorn). Bowen does a great job outlining the rules of magic, so the twist is both shocking but makes the reader feel smart for figuring it out.

A rootin’, tootin’, shapeshiftin’ time in the weird west with some decent trans rep.